Updated on September 3, 2017 at 4:19 PM
Posted on September 3, 2017 at 7:00 AM
By Jacqueline Cutler
Michael Ausiello, who grew up in Roselle Park, has written a deeply personal account of his husband dying from cancer.Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock
“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”
By Michael Ausiello
(Atria Books, 313 pp, $26)
As hate threatens to strangle our country, take a look at what love looks like.
For anyone who can’t wrap a limited mind around the fact that love is love, read Michael Ausiello’s heartbreaking memoir about losing his husband, Christopher “Kit” Cowan, to cancer.
That’s not giving away the ending. The title broadcasts the finale: “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies.” No one should be widowed at 43 and no one should endure what Kit did.
Ausiello has written the opposite of a page-turner – in the best way. Usually when a book is this engaging, I have the next page poised, resting on my finger the way a knitter loops the next stitch around the index finger to move efficiently. With this, I kept stopping, too overwhelmed to blithely turn pages.
First a disclaimer and it’s a small one. Ausiello and I belong to a professional group, though we had never even chatted until about a month ago when I confirmed that he grew up in Roselle Park, a child who loved TV and Smurfs. And as an adult, he lived in a Smurf-stuffed Bloomfield walk-up. (That’s not a euphemism; the man has a serious Smurf collection.)
“Kit’s personal living space looked like it had been ripped out of the pages of Architectural Digest. Mine looked like it had been ripped out of Yard Sale Weekly.”
Editor-in-chief of TVLine.com, Michael Ausiello writes about his beloved husband, Kit, who endures a horrid year and dies young.Rachel Willey
In a market flooded by memoirs, I often start them and cannot sustain interest for a few hundred pages, never mind recommend them on these pages. Ausiello’s memoir, however, is raw, honest and eminently readable.
He shares the most personal moments about friendship, romance, sex, self-doubt and the intensely intimate – tending to someone as his body rebels. Like most long-term relationships – they were together 13 years – there were issues. They stuck it out, sought counseling and built a life together incorporating their pasts, living in the moment and planning a future. Warning: The last chapter is a punch to the heart.
As the editor-in-chief of TVLine.com, Ausiello knows his way around a story and puts this one in perspective. He grew up one of three sons. His mom, whom he adored, died when he was 16, his dad died six years later. Cowan was a doted-upon only child from rural Pennsylvania.
They met just after 9/11, when it felt like an act of defiance just to go out in New York. Smitten from the start, Ausiello writes, “I was already worried the gay police were going to issue me a citation for trespassing outside of my league.”
After their first official date, Ausiello took stock: “All the Mikes that for the past fifteen years had conspired to convince me that because my parents had died, or because I wasn’t straight, or because I was once 250 pounds, I didn’t deserve to be happy. Or to be loved. They kept their collective mouths shut the entire way and allowed me to just be. I had never enjoyed a bus ride to New Jersey more.”
Exquisitely styled, Cowan curated his home and his look. He worked as a creative director and was a photographer, though he appreciated a good 99-cent store. They fell in love, lived together, pursued their careers, went on vacations and did what everyone wants to do – lived full lives. Until they couldn’t.
Cowan had a rare and aggressive form of cancer, which eventually metastasized to his brain.
Ausiello’s journalistic skills go into hyper-drive as he researches the cancer and finds oncologists. Though neither of them had been keen on getting married, on a day when they had two miserable doctors’ appointments, including the news that Cowan had “about a year,” they wed in a civil ceremony.
“Some of the duos were fully decked out in traditional garb; others looked as if they were going back in time thirty years to their senior prom at the Newark Airport Hilton (as someone who attended two proms in New Jersey, one of them at the Newark Airport Hilton, I’m allowed to make that joke.)”
After what he’s been through, Ausiello is allowed to make pretty much any joke. Through it all, he lovingly takes care of Cowan. This isn’t a pity party, just a searing account of what it’s like to try to relish each moment, knowing the ultimate deadline looms.